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was in his tent, busy with his generals, examining maps in preparation
for the immediate resumption of the march, an orderly came, in
breathless haste, to inform the king that the Austrians were advancing
rapidly upon him, and in great force. While he was yet speaking
another messenger arrived, confirming the tidings, and stating that,
apparently, the whole Austrian army, in battle array, was coming down
upon him.

It was a cold, dreary autumnal morning. The Austrian army, according to
Frederick’s statement, amounted to sixty thousand men.[86] But it was
widely dispersed. Many of the cavalry were scouring the country in all
directions, in foraging parties and as skirmishers. Large bodies had
been sent by circuitous roads to occupy every avenue of retreat. The
consolidated army, under Prince Charles, now advancing to the attack,
amounted to thirty-six thousand men. Frederick had but twenty-six

In this hour of peril the genius of the Prussian monarch was remarkably
developed. He manifested not the slightest agitation or alarm. His plan
was immediately formed. Indeed, there was no time for a moment’s delay.
The Austrians had moved rapidly and silently, concealing their approach
by a thick veil of hussars. They were already in solid columns,
confident of victory, advancing upon the Prussian camp. Frederick
was compelled to form his line of battle under fire of the Austrian
batteries. The discipline of the Prussians was such that this was done
with a recklessness of danger, rapidity, and mechanical precision which
seemed almost miraculous, and which elicited the admiration of every
one who beheld it.

The reader would not be interested in the details of the battle which
ensued. It lasted for five hours. It was, as is every battle, an
indescribable scene of tumult, uproar, and confusion. The result was
long doubtful. Defeat to Frederick would have been utter ruin. It is
wonderful how one determined man can infuse his spirit into a whole
host. Every Prussian seemed to have the same desperate valor, and
determination to conquer or to die, which animated his king.

The sun had just risen above the horizon when the conflict commenced.
It reached its meridian. Still the storm of battle swept the plains
and reverberated over the hills. Heights had been taken and retaken;
charges had been made and repelled; the surges of victory had rolled
to and fro; over many leagues the thunderbolts of battle were thickly
flying; bugle peals, cries of onset, shrieks of the wounded crushed
beneath artillery wheels, blended with the rattle of musketry and the
roar of artillery; riderless horses were flying in all directions; the
extended plain was covered with the wreck and ruin of battle, and every
moment was multiplying the victims of war’s horrid butchery.

At length the Austrians were routed - utterly routed - broken,
dispersed, and driven in wild confusion into the glooms of the forest.
The victory of Frederick was complete. As a warrior, he was winning the
title he so greatly coveted, of Frederick the Great.

It was a glorious victory. What was the price? Five thousand six
hundred Prussian young men lay in their blood upon the field, dead or
wounded. Six thousand seven hundred young men from Austrian homes lay
by their side, silent in death, or groaning in anguish, lacerated by
the missiles of war.[88]

Frederick was elated with his victory. He had taken three thousand
three hundred prisoners, twenty-one cannon, and twenty-two standards.
He had added to the renown of his name, and strengthened his hold upon

Prince Charles, as he was leading the main body of his army to the
assault, sent a squadron of his fleet-footed cavalry to burn the
Prussian camp, and to assail the foe in their rear. But the troops
found the camp so rich in treasure that they could not resist the
temptation of stopping to plunder. Thus they did not make the attack
which had been ordered, and which would probably have resulted in the
destruction of the Prussian army. It is said that when Frederick, in
the heat of the battle, was informed that the Pandours were sacking
his camp, he coolly replied, “So much the better; they will not then
interrupt us.”[89]



Sufferings of the Peasantry. - Renown and Peril of Frederick. - New
Plan of Maria Theresa. - Despondency of Frederick. - Surprise and
Rout of the Austrians. - The “Old Dessauer” enters Saxony. - Battle
of Kesseldorf. - Singular Prayer of the Old Dessauer. - Signal
Victory of the Prussians. - Elation of Frederick. - The Peace of
Dresden. - Death of M. Duhan.

After the retreat of the Austrians, Frederick returned to his camp to
find it plundered and burned. The semi-barbarian assailants had also
consigned to the flames eight or ten sick Prussians whom they found
there, and several women whom they caught. “We found the limbs of these
poor men and women lying about,” writes General Lehwald.

The camp was so utterly destroyed that Frederick could not even obtain
pen and ink. He was obliged to write with a pencil. Not a loaf of
bread nor a cup of wine was left for the exhausted king. The hungry
soldiers, after a conflict of five hours, having had neither breakfast
nor dinner, found no refreshments awaiting them; yet, without a murmur,
they smoked their pipes, drank some spring water, and rejoiced in their
great victory.

“Never mind,” said the king; “it is a cheap price to pay for escaping
an attack from Pandours in the rear, while such a battle was raging in

Frederick remained at Sohr five days. The country was scoured in all
directions to obtain food for his army. It was necessary that the
troops should be fed, even if the poor inhabitants starved miserably.
No tongue can tell the sufferings which consequently fell upon the
peasantry for leagues around. Prince Charles, with his shattered army,
fell back to Königgrätz, remorselessly plundering the people by the
way. Frederick, ordering his army to retire to Silesia, returned to

The victory of Sohr filled Europe with the renown of Frederick. Still
his peril was great, and the difficulties before him apparently
insurmountable. His treasury was exhausted. His only ally, France,
would furnish him with no money, had no confidence in him, and was in
heart exasperated against him. Not a single court in Europe expressed
any friendship for Frederick. On the contrary, nearly all would have
rejoiced at his downfall. There seemed to be no end to the campaigns
which were opening before him. Yet Frederick knew not where to obtain
the money to meet the expense even of a single campaign.

Under these circumstances, Frederick made indirect but vigorous
exertions to bring the war to a close. “I am ready and desirous now,”
he said, “as at all times, for peace. I will immediately sheathe the
sword if I can be guaranteed the possession of Silesia.”

“I, too, am anxious for peace,” Maria Theresa replied, “and will
joyfully withdraw my armies if Silesia, of which I have been robbed, is
restored to me.”

Thus his Prussian majesty and the Queen of Hungary met each other
like two icebergs in a stormy sea. The allies were exasperated, not
conquered, by the defeat of Sohr. Maria Theresa, notwithstanding the
severity of winter’s cold, resolved immediately to send three armies to
invade Prussia, and storm Berlin itself. She hoped to keep the design
profoundly secret, so that Frederick might be taken at unawares. The
Swedish envoy at Dresden spied out the plan, and gave the king warning.
Marshal Grüne was to advance from the Rhine, and enter Brandenburg from
the west. Prince Charles, skirting Western Silesia, was to march upon
Brandenburg from the south. General Rutowski was to spring upon the Old
Dessauer, who was encamped upon the frontiers of Saxony, overwhelm and
crush his army with superior numbers, and then, forming a junction with
Marshal Brüne, with their united force rush upon Berlin.

Frederick was astounded, alarmed, for a moment overwhelmed, as these
tidings were clearly made known to him. He had brought all this upon
himself. “And yet,” the wretched man exclaimed, “what a life I lead!
This is not living; this is being killed a thousand times a day!”

This despondency lasted, however, but a moment. Concealing his
emotions, he smoothed his furrowed brow, dressed his face in smiles,
and wrote doggerel verses and jocose letters as if he were merely
a fashionable man of pleasure. At the same time he rallied all his
marvelous energies, and prepared to meet the exigency with sagacity
and intrepidity rarely surpassed. Orders were immediately dispatched
to the Old Dessauer to marshal an army to oppose Grüne and Rutowski,
while the king hastened to Silesia to attack Prince Charles. Leopold,
though he had nearly numbered his threescore years and ten, according
to Frederick, was very glad to fight once again before he died. The
veteran general ventured to make some suggestions in reference to the
orders he had received. The king sternly replied,

“When your highness gets armies of your own, you will order them
according to your mind. At present, it must be according to mine.”

Frederick had an army of thirty-five thousand men at Liegnitz, in
Silesia, under the command of young Leopold. Every man was a thoroughly
trained soldier. The army was in the best possible condition. At seven
o’clock in the morning of November 15, 1745, the king left Berlin at
full speed for Liegnitz. He arrived there the next day, and at once
took the command. “There is great velocity in this young king,” writes
Carlyle; “a panther-like suddenness of spring in him; cunning too, as
any _felis_ of them; and with claws as the _felis leo_ on occasion.”

Prince Charles was _en route_ for Berlin - a winter’s march of a
hundred and fifty miles. He was not aware that the King of Prussia
was near him, or that the king was conscious of his bold design. On
Saturday night, November 20, the army of Prince Charles, forty thousand
strong, on its line of march, suspecting no foe near, was encamped in
villages, extending for twenty miles along the banks of the Queiss,
one of the tributaries of the Oder. Four marches would bring them
into Brandenburg. It was the design of Frederick to fall with his
whole force upon the centre of this line, cut it in two, and then to
annihilate the extremities. Early in the morning of Sunday, the 21st,
Frederick put his troops in motion. He marched rapidly all that day,
and Monday, and Tuesday. In the twilight of Tuesday evening, a dense
fog enveloping the landscape, Frederick, with his concentrated force,
fell impetuously upon a division of the Austrian army encamped in the
village of Hennersdorf.

The assault was as sudden and resistless as the sweep of the avalanche.
The Austrian division was annihilated. Scarcely a man escaped. This
achievement was deemed a very brilliant passage of war. It cut the
Austrian army in twain and secured its ruin.

The next morning the Prussian troops, led by their indomitable king,
were early on the march, groping through the thick mist to find more of
the foe. But the blow already given was decisive. The Austrian army was
shattered, demoralized, ruined. The king could find nothing but broken
tumbrils, abandoned wagons, and the débris of an utterly routed army.
Prince Charles, bewildered by the disaster, had wheeled his columns
around, and fled through the passes of the mountains back to Bohemia.
Five thousand of his troops he left behind in killed or prisoners.

Frederick was not unduly elated with his victory. He was still terribly
harassed for money. There were campaigns opening before him, in an
unending series, requiring enormous expenditure. Even many such
victories as he had just gained would only conduct him to irretrievable
ruin, unless he could succeed in conquering a peace. In these dark
hours the will of this extraordinary man remained inflexible. He would
not listen to any propositions for peace which did not guarantee to him
Silesia. Maria Theresa would listen to no terms which did not restore
to her the lost province.

Frederick, in this great emergence, condescended again to write
imploringly to France for pecuniary aid. He received a sarcastic reply,
which exasperated him, and which was couched in such polite terms that
he could not openly resent it. Marshal Grüne, who was advancing rapidly
from the Rhine to Berlin, hearing of the defeat of his confederates at
Hennersdorf, and of the retreat of Prince Charles, wheeled his columns
south for Saxony. Here he effected a junction with General Rutowski,
near Dresden. Their combined troops intrenched themselves, and stood on
the defensive.

On the 29th of December, the Old Dessauer, with thirty-five thousand
men, crossed the frontiers and entered Saxony. He marched rapidly upon
Leipsic, and seized the town, from which a division of Rutowski’s army
precipitately fled. Leopold found here quite a supply of commissary and
ordnance stores. He also replenished his empty army-chest by levying
a contribution of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars upon the
inhabitants. Then, by a rapid march northeast to Torgo, on the Elbe,
he captured another imperial magazine. Turning south, he pressed his
troops along up the river to Myssen, which was within two days’ easy
march of Dresden. Here there was a bridge across the Oder. Frederick
was pushing his troops, by forced marches, from Hennersdorf, to effect
a junction with Leopold at Myssen. Unitedly they were to fall upon
Grüne and Rutowski at Dresden. In the mean time, also, Prince Charles,
a despondent man, crushed by domestic woe and humiliating defeats, was
moving, by not very energetic steps, to re-enforce the allied troops at

It was two o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, December 12, when
the banners of the Old Dessauer appeared before Myssen. The Saxon
commander there broke down the bridge, and in the darkness of the
night stole away with his garrison to Dresden. Leopold vigorously but
cautiously pursued. As the allied army was near, and in greater force
than Leopold’s command, it was necessary for him to move with much
discretion. His march was along the west bank of the river. The ground
was frozen and white with snow.

On Wednesday morning, December 15, the advance-guard of the Prussians
saw before them the allied army, thirty-five thousand strong, occupying
a very formidable position. Marshal Grüne and General Rutowski had
advanced a few miles north from Dresden to meet the Prussians. Their
troops were drawn up in battle array, extending from the River Elbe on
the east, to the village of Kesselsdorf on the west. A small stream,
with a craggy or broken gully or dell, extended along their whole
front. The southern ridge, facing the advancing Prussians, bristled
with artillery. Some of the pieces were of heavy calibre. Leopold had
only light field-pieces.

In the cold of the winter morning the Old Dessauer carefully
reconnoitred the position of his foes. Their batteries seemed
innumerable, protected by earth-works, and frowning along a cliff which
could only be reached by plunging into a gully and wading through a
half-frozen bog. There was, however, no alternative but to advance or
retreat. He decided to advance.

Forming his army in two parallel lines, nearly five miles long, facing
the foe, he prepared to open the battle along the whole extent of
the field. While thus engrossing the attention of the enemy, his main
attempt was to be directed against the village of Kesselsdorf, which
his practiced eye saw to be the key of the position. It was two o’clock
in the afternoon ere all his arrangements were completed. The Old
Dessauer was a devout man - in his peculiar style a religious man, a
man of prayer. He never went into battle without imploring God’s aid.
On this occasion, all things being arranged, he reverently uncovered
his head, and in presence of the troops offered, it is said, the
following prayer:

“O my God, help me yet this once. Let me not be disgraced in my old
days. But if Thou wilt not help me, don’t help those scoundrels, but
leave us to try it out ourselves.”

Having uttered this prayer, he waved his hat to his troops, and
shouted, “On, in God’s name!”

“The Prussians,” writes Carlyle, “tramp on with the usual grim-browed
resolution, foot in front, horse in rear. But they have a terrible
problem at that Kesselsdorf, with its retrenched batteries and numerous
grenadiers fighting under cover. The very ground is sore against them;
up-hill, and the trampled snow wearing into a slide, so that you sprawl
and stagger sadly. Thirty-one big guns, and near nine thousand small,
pouring out mere death on you from that knoll-head. The Prussians
stagger; can not stand; bend to rightward to get out of shot range; can
not manage it this bout. Rally, re-enforced; try it again. Again with a
will; but again there is not a way. The Prussians are again repulsed;
fall back down this slippery course in more disorder than the first
time. Had the Saxons stood still, steadily handling arms, how, on such
terms, could the Prussians have ever managed it?”[90]

At the second repulse, the Saxon grenadiers, greatly elated, gave
a shout of “victory,” and rushed from their works to pursue the
retreating Prussians. This was their ruin.

“Old Leopold, quick as thought, noticing the thing, hurls cavalry
on these victorious, down-plunging grenadiers; slashes them asunder
into mere recoiling whirlpools of ruin, so that few of them got back
unwounded; and the Prussians, storming in along with them, aided by
ever new Prussians, the place was at length carried.”[91]

And now the Prussians from the centre press the foe with new vigor.
Leopold, at the head of his victorious division, charged the allied
troops in flank, pouring in upon them his resistless horsemen. Whole
regiments were made prisoners. Ere nightfall of the short December
day, the whole allied army, broken and disordered, was on the retreat
back to Dresden. The night alone protected them from utter ruin. They
had lost six thousand prisoners, and three thousand in killed and

Prince Charles had arrived in Dresden the night before. He heard the
roar of the cannonade all the day, but, for some unexplained reason,
did not advance to the support of his friends. The very unsatisfactory
excuse offered was, that his troops were exhausted by their long march;
and that, having been recently twice beaten by the Prussians, his army
would be utterly demoralized if led to another defeat.

On the evening of Tuesday, the 14th, Frederick, with his advanced
guard, reached Myssen. All the next day, Wednesday, he was hurrying up
his troops from the rear. In the afternoon he heard the deep booming
of the cannon far up the Elbe. In the evening the sky was ablaze with
the glare of the watch-fires of Leopold’s victorious troops. The next
morning Frederick pressed forward with all haste to join Leopold.
Couriers on the way informed him of the great victory. At Wilsdruf, a
few miles from the field of battle, he met Leopold, who had advanced in
person to meet his king. Frederick dismounted, uncovered his head, and
threw his arms around the Old Dessauer in a grateful embrace.

Together the king and his sturdy general returned to Kesselsdorf, and
rode over the field of battle, which was still strewn with the ghastly
wrecks of war. Large numbers of the citizens of Dresden were on the
field searching for their lost ones among the wounded or the dead.
The Queen of Poland and her children remained in the city. Frederick
treated them with marked politeness, and appointed them guards of
honor. The King of Poland, who, it will be remembered, was also
Elector of Saxony, applied for peace. Frederick replied:

“Guarantee me the possession of Silesia, and pay me seven hundred and
fifty thousand dollars for the expenses of this campaign, and I will
withdraw my army.”


M. D’Arget, private secretary of the French minister Valori, gives an
interesting account of an interview he held with Frederick at this
time. M. D’Arget was quite a favorite of the king, who conversed with
him with unusual frankness.

“These kind condescensions of his majesty,” writes M. D’Arget,
“emboldened me to represent to him the brilliant position he now held,
and how noble it would be, after being the hero of Germany, to become
the pacificator of Europe.”

“I grant it, my dear D’Arget,” said the king, “but it is too dangerous
a part to play. A reverse brings me to the edge of ruin. I know too
well the mood of mind I was in the last time I left Berlin ever to
expose myself to it again. If luck had been against me there, I saw
myself a monarch without a throne. A bad game that. In fine, I wish to
be at peace.”

“I represented to him,” continues M. D’Arget, “that the house of
Austria would never, with a tranquil eye, see his house in possession
of Silesia.”

“Those that come after me,” said the king, “will do as they like.
The future is beyond man’s reach. I have acquired; it is theirs
to preserve. I am not in alarm about the Austrians. They dread my
armies - the luck that I have. I am sure of their sitting quiet for the
dozen years or so which may remain to me of life. There is more for
me in the true greatness of laboring for the happiness of my subjects
than in the repose of Europe. I have put Saxony out of a condition to
hurt me. She now owes me twelve million five hundred thousand dollars.
By the defensive alliance which I form with her, I provide myself a
help against Austria. I would not, henceforth, attack a cat, except to
defend myself. Glory and my interests were the occasion of my first
campaigns. The late emperor’s situation, and my zeal for France, gave
rise to the second. Always since, I have been fighting for my own
hearths - for my very existence. I know the state I have got into. If I
now saw Prince Charles at the gates of Paris, I would not stir.”

“And would you regard with the same indifference,” M. D’Arget rejoined,
“seeing us at the gates of Vienna?”

“Yes,” the king replied. “I swear it to you, D’Arget. In a word, I want
to have some good of my life. What are we, poor human atoms, to get up
projects that cost so much blood!”

On the 25th of December, 1745, the peace of Dresden was signed. The
demands of Frederick were acceded to. Augustus III. of Saxony, Maria
Theresa of Austria, and George II. of England became parties to the
treaty. The next day Frederick attended sermon in the Protestant
church. Monday morning his army, by slow marches, commenced its return
to Brandenburg. Frederick, highly elated by the wonderful and almost
miraculous change in his affairs, entered his carriage in company with
his two brothers, and drove rapidly toward Berlin. The next day, at
two o’clock in the afternoon, they reached the heath of Britz, five
miles out from the city. Here the king found an immense concourse of
the citizens, who had come on horseback and in carriages to escort him
to his palace. Frederick sat in an open phaeton, accompanied by the
Prince of Prussia and Prince Henry. The throng was so great that the
horses could only proceed at the slowest pace. The air resounded with
shouts of “Long live Frederick the Great.” The king was especially
gracious, saying to those who eagerly crowded around his carriage

“Do not press each other, my children. Take care of yourselves that the
horses may not trample upon you, and that no accident may happen.”

It was remarked that the whole behavior of the king upon this occasion
exhibited the utmost mildness, gentleness, and affability. He seemed to
be influenced by the most tender regard for the welfare of the people.

Upon reaching the palace, he stood for a moment upon the grand
stairway, and, surveying the thronging thousands, took off his hat and
saluted them. This gave rise to a burst of applause louder and heartier
than Berlin had ever heard before. The king disappeared within the
palace. Where the poor neglected queen was at this time we are not
informed. There are no indications that he gave her even a thought.

At six o’clock in the evening the whole city was illuminated. Frederick
entered his carriage, and, attended by his two brothers, the Prince
of Prussia and Prince Henry, rode out to take the circuit of the
streets. But the king had received information that one of his former

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 30 of 52)